Rev. Mel Richardson Feted As 1999 Citizen Of Year Dinner
BY TODD WELLINGTON Staff Writer
It seemed like everyone wanted to find a way to say thank you to the Rev. Mel Richardson Saturday night.
The local Episcopal priest and staff chaplain of the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital was awarded Citizen of the Year by the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce in a ceremony at the Lincoln Inn.
In the packed banquet room there was much praise from civic leaders, colleagues, friends and family for Richardson's well-known record of community service and spiritual counsel.
There were letters of congratulations from state and federal politicians as well as others who could not make it to the banquet.
There were heartfelt testimonials from many who had benefited personally from the friendship and spiritual hand of healing and comfort Richardson has put to use time and time again throughout his years in St. Johnsbury.
Even his beloved Boston Red Sox, hundreds of miles away in Toronto and trailing the rival Blue Jays earlier in the afternoon, found a way to return Richardson's years of unwavering loyalty and support by rallying back for an inspiring 6-5 victory.
"I'm overwhelmed," said Richardson at the end of the evening.
Judging by the outpouring of genuine respect and affection, it appeared to be a deserving night of accolades for someone who, as described by Alfred Zeller during the invocation, "gives so much to the community but asks nothing in return."
St. Johnsbury dentist and 1998 Citizen of the Year Dr. Fred Silloway knows all about Richardson. He and fellow NVRH trustee Barbara Smith first hatched the idea of enhancing the care of patients and their families at NVRH by bringing Richardson over to NVRH from his Parish at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.
Silloway also has experienced Richardson's special abilities first hand.
"For whatever reason, he applies just the right kind of medicine to the right kind of illness," said Silloway. "When I see Father Mel at work, I see something special. It's like there's a hand that comes down from wherever that guides him. When I was very, very sick, I was touched by that hand. I was touched when I really needed it."
Touching on Richardson's well-known weakness for the Red Sox, Sue Merrow, NVRH director of medical records, said she had received a fax from "Moses" that included a few commandments Richardson should try a little harder to follow, including, "Thou shalt not curse when the Red Sox fail to win the pennant."
Jim King marveled at Richardson's loyalty to the Olde Towne Team, which he used to illustrate Richardson's well known positive outlook.
"He always found something positive to say about the Red Sox, which is incredible," said King.
King also praised Richardson as a great friend, father, family man and man of the cloth.
"Faith is the name of the game," said King. "We all need someone who has that faith. Mel is that individual."
St. Johnsbury Fire Chief Troy Ruggles and call firefighter David Brown are quite familiar with the need for a person of faith.
They, along with the rest of the St. Johnsbury Fire Department, were struck with personal tragedy last summer when their brother firefighter Eugene McDonough was killed while fighting the PMI warehouse blaze in Lyndonville.
It was Richardson who met them in the emergency room that night and returned to the St. Johnsbury fire station to provide council.
It was also Richardson who was later called back to the station where he stayed the rest of the night and most of the next few days.
"Mel came back in the middle of the night and stayed with us," recalled Brown. "I can't tell you how important it was for us at that critical time."
"We just can't thank him enough for all he did when we lost Gene," said Ruggles.
Liz Truslow, a personal friend of Richardson and his wife, Mary, also talked of his calming presence in times of distress - something she experienced when someone close to her was in the hospital with a potentially life-threatening illness and Richardson arrived to offer help and comfort.
"I had a powerful sense that we were being watched over, and we were," she said.
Even Richardson's fellow clergy commented on the warmth of his friendship and the extent of his community service.
"It really is a blessing and a joy to call him a friend," said the Rev. Steve Winkler.
The Rev. Bruce Burk may have summed up the sentiment of the evening best when, after reading a passage from the Bible, he looked over at Richardson and said, "We all thank God very much for letting you live in St. Johnsbury."